Merrill Is Bullish On Paper Clips

It's off to a fast start in small-business E-commerce

This January, in a conference room at a Hyatt Hotel in Austin, Tex., John L. Steffens, vice-chairman of Merrill Lynch & Co., listened intently to a presentation by the head of a local Internet startup. Bo Holland, 34, explained how his company,, lets small businesses buy everything from paper clips to pcs online. Right after the presentation, Steffens started negotiating an alliance. Says Holland: "We were totally blown away by how quickly these guys were moving."

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